Rain pounds the car bonnet as I drive through Aviemore. It's forecast to be a very wet weekend, they got it right. It's been a good few years since I've been in this beautiful area, pitched up beside Loch Morlich.
Memories rushed back as I drove past the camp site but my destination was a bit further on.
I round the corner and there's an impressive sight, Marquees, tents and camper vans have taken over the field, welcome to the Glenmore 12 and 24 trail race. This is my first time at Glenmore which is run by team BAM.
I'm guided to a tent pitch by George and his bike. As I park the car the rain falls heavier than ever. With a tent to pitch I sit in the car waiting for the downpour to ease off, which it does after 5 minutes. I put up the 2 berth tent and throw in a sleeping bag. If I have to use this my race has gone wrong. I register with Ada and return to the car for something to eat.
I'm here without support, Lynne and Skye couldn't make it. There's a marquee for unsupported runners where a couple of tables are set up. I'm just about to put in my "stuff" when I bump into Heather and Peter. They have a ringside pitch and kindly offer me space for my food and running gear.
At 1130 it's race briefing then the heavens open once more. With half an hour before race start everyone heads for shelter, the field is empty. I am wearing shorts, a long sleeve top, shower jacket, buff and gloves.
I sit shivering in the car and seriously consider putting on full wet weather gear but decide against it, surely the weather has to improve. At 1155 everyone makes their way to the start arch. I chat to a few friends then realise I am in the middle of the pack, I need to be at the back. Both 12 and 24 hour runners set off at midday.
My target is 100 miles, simple eh? Well not quite. I've never run the course before so don't know how long I'll take to do one lap. I'm doing the maths in my head as we start off. The loop is 4 miles, 13 minute miles with 8 minutes spare per lap to feed and hydrate. With 24 laps this would equal 96 and wouldn't be enough.
I decide to reassess my plan once the first lap is complete.
The trail is a bit congested until the field spreads out. The mud and puddles aren't too bad but I have a feeling this will change as the race progresses. I'm running with Jenni and Karen, two experienced Glenmore runners so I pick up some useful tips as we go along. My ancient shower proof jacket isn't shower proof at all, I can feel cold water running down my back. My long sleeve top is soaking, I am worried about core temperature. I don't want to faff about changing clothes so I'll just take it as it comes.
Water station, two miles in, a stroke of genius meaning runners don't have to carry water. There's a shift system on here, marshals changing over every 2 hours or so right through the night. This is the place for music, dancing, banter and good advice before heading uphill. Downhill to marshal Stan, the out lap shares around five meters of the in lap, he makes sure there is no confusion for the first couple of circuits. Then it's the home straight, through the car park to Ada in the timing tent. Shout my number and off I go again.
First lap, quorn mini egg and scoof of water = 50 minutes. Okay, I do some maths now and get the strategy going. From my original plan of one lap an hour I'll need to find an extra lap. A steady 50 minute circuit until 1700 will gain an hour. With 24 miles complete I'd have 76 miles to go in 19 hours, one lap an hour. I also intend doing another 50 minute lap at five o'clock so I can stop for something decent to eat, the race was on.
The rain stops but I'm still cold, the non shower proof jacket is keeping the wet in and prevents my running top drying out. I hang the jacket up and begin to dry out during the next lap. The sun is out, it's the first time I feel warm since arriving. It doesn't last, there's a severe hail shower where a lot of runners are caught out, including me. My jacket is still hanging up at camp so I get absolutely soaked, there's a massive thunder clap overhead, this is going to be some race.
The camp site is white with hail, it's so cold they're not melting away. I take my hail covered jacket and put it on once more, I consider it a wind break rather than water proof now. Quorn mini egg, scoof of water and carry on.
Galaxy chocolate coffees, I have two with me and they are amazing, I wish I had more. My strategy is working so far. It's five o'clock, one more lap then it's supper time. I consume an egg sandwich and lentil soup still hot from a flask, despite being filled 12 hours previous. I also have a flask of coffee which is a good temperature. This is the first race I've run where I actually have an appetite, I put it down to regular eating at the end of every lap.
Hot spot, so early on to have blister problems. It's not surprising, the hay field is water logged which gives runners a good foot spa every lap. I stop and get the first aid kit out. It's the only time I sit down during the 24 hours. Dry and Vaseline the feet, change of socks, round the sodden hay field and that's the good work undone, ah well, just push on.
During the next feed I decide to finish the flasks before they cool down, only my hands are wet and I've screwed the soup lid on too tight. I wrestle with it before deciding I'm losing too much time and choose something cold instead. I get the flask open next time I'm in.
The light is fading, time to judge when to put on the head torch, I don't want to be stumbling around in the dark. I switch it on but the light is dim. I have new batteries in my kit bag which is protected from the rain by a bin bag. Changing batteries is going to eat into precious time but I have no choice. Lashing rain, all bags open to the elements while I fumble with batteries and food then off I go again.
Come with me, I'll take you around a lap. It's dark now so everything changes and we have to focus on the small circle of light. From my feeding station the course is horseshoe shaped around the hayfield, a taped fence separates runners from tents. Watch your feet, it's undulating and flooded in places. Thank the tireless support crews who give encouragement and ring cow bells every time you pass, no matter what time.
There's a small grassy uphill as we leave the camp site. A tight turn and its a narrow stony downhill track to the 5 meter in/out shared part. Right turn and it's time to dodge puddles and mud. This is the wet section, don't worry it dries out later in the course. I get to know every puddle and which side is best to cross. Left turn, still on narrow trails with muddy puddles. One in particular is wide but grab the bushes for support and you can cross pretty much unscathed. If it was light you would see the loch to your right. The trail turns left, you get a short walk before joining the forest track. Turn right, get your head down and find the right running pace, you've a bit to run before going uphill. A couple of bends then you pass what's known as Ray's bench.
Keep going, this is a long section. The track turns left for a short uphill walk, start running again when you reach the wooden post. The track snakes along to a second short uphill walk, start running again when you reach the white stone. The track curves to the right before going uphill, the proper uphill. You can sometimes hear the water station from here, depending which marshals are on shift. Up we walk, past the red glow stick on the left and water station sign on the right. A bit further and we have reached an oasis, a drink of water every round, although sometimes other beverages are on offer. Come on, got to push on. There's still a long way uphill to go, we can run to the white reflector on the left hand side before walking again. There's a red glow stick on the left, start running uphill until you see another on the left. This one marks the top, run level for a short while, turn left and let gravity take over for the next ten minutes.
Downhill we make our way, over the concrete bridge and pass the 5 meter shared section. We now have a very short walk uphill, excuse me while I check my watch, this is where I check my times, I'm okay it's twenty to the hour I have a small time buffer. Turn left onto the granite steps, they are getting more painful to descend, then run through the car park acknowledging the encouragement before arriving at Ada's tent, don't forget to shout your number. There you have it, one circuit of Glenmore.
There's a runner going in the opposite direction, it's John Kynaston who gives much appreciated encouragement and support. Later on there's a powerful spotlight off the track to the left. Someone on an off road bicycle joins the route, it's Sean the medic, a reassuring presence patrolling the race.
Midnight is approaching. The 12's are about to finish. One hour before the end, a short loop around the camp site is created. Runners are given a tent peg with their number on it. Laps are counted until the finish air horn goes off. Runners stop and place the peg where they stand. The 12's are in full flow on the short lap when I get in. There's no time to watch and cheer them on as much as I would like to. Eat, drink, go.
I miss the 12's, the track is strangely quiet and empty. I consider putting on my mp3 player for the next round but decide against it, a) because I have no time to mess around and b) because I'm not really in the mood. It's the witching hour and my times are beginning to slip. Two minutes per lap doesn't sound much but it's eating into my buffer. The dark night goes on and on, dawn is delayed by bad weather. The new batteries are done so I grab the Phoenix hand torch for the last lap before light. It's playing up, the battery compartment is loose which blinks the torch off and on every time my arm swings forward and back.
I check my watch at the same place every lap, the times are getting close to the hour. If they hit the hour it will be all over, no 100 miles, just damage limitation.
My goal is getting harder to reach and I'm stiffening up, next round it's time for paracetamol. Stan and John are at the water station. They are confident I'll cover the required 24 miles in the remaining six hours, more confident than me. More wasted time opening the first aid kit and obtaining pain killers. Noanie is in camp and offers a hot drink, coffee would be nice I reply. Next time your round a thermal cup of coffee will be here, perfect timing.
Iv'e gone a short distance from camp when I hear the long blast of an air horn, the first person has reached 100 miles and it puts shivers up my spine. Right, I think to myself, the next runner that catches me up in the next ten minutes must be the race leader. I have a good idea who it is and right on cue John Duncan passes by. I congratulate John who is having a storming race then turn the attention to mine. Stomach issues are on the horizon, the next round requires a pit stop which could wreck my plans.
There's a Thermos mug waiting, nice hot sweet coffee, perfect. I nip into a portaloo, this is going to harm my time but needs must. I walk round the hayfield drinking the hot coffee before handing the cup back to Noanie. Another cup is arranged for the next lap before walking up the grassy slope. I look at my watch which is dead on seven o'clock. Iv'e all but given up on 100 miles, feeling tired and negative I turn to plan B, between 96 and 99 miles but this doesn't sit comfortably. Yes I'm exhausted and starting to walk some flat sections but all is not lost. If I can keep this lap to an hour that's eight o'clock with 16 miles to go. I need to get the safety buffer back and make sure I pass Ada before 11 o'clock for the last lap. If I miss this I'll be on the short circuit and under 100 miles. The next two laps will be crucial, I need 5 minutes quicker from each to give a ten minute buffer for the last two laps.
The Thermos is there, great much appreciated Noanie. I need pain killers again, Heather and Peter sort me out with fast acting tablets before I set off. I drink the coffee walking round the hayfield once more. I walk up the grass slope and give myself a good talking to. I've worked hard for this and I'm not settling for less than 100. I force myself to run the puddle section. Onto the long track now, get into a running pace and don't walk any of it. Water station and some great encouragement from Sandra. The downhill section is hurting but I try and let go to make up time. Three laps to go, I put in an order for tomato soup from Noanie, but no stopping. Same again, force the level running, walk the uphill's, run the downhill. I start to believe I can do this. Heather and Peter have the hot soup waiting, perfect timing. I manage to drink half walking round once more before handing the cup back to Noanie. It's the penultimate lap and I have one last request when I come through next, a coke, ultra runners rocket fuel.
Iv'e got the buffer I need but it's taken a lot out of me. Just hold this lap to an hour and it's in the bag, I think to myself. Through puddle alley then onto the long track, don't walk the flat sections. Walk the uphill, that's okay. Water stop, there's a coke flavour caffeine nun drink on offer which I gulp down. Downhill once more then past the timing tent for one more lap.
There's a bottle of coke waiting, nicely flattened. Peter accompanies me around the hay field while I drink the coke. It's time for the final lap, walking up the grass slope with Noanie and Peter I'm asked if I would like a support runner. Absolutely, who better than a fellow Double Cateran runner.
An hour and a quarter, that's how long we had to complete the last lap. Nice and easy but still no walking the flat sections. Walk the uphill's as normal, water stop then the quad bashing descent. Down the granite steps and there's a smile on my face. I can see the timing tent where I'm after one thing. As I approach, Ada shout's "are you ready George?" Damn right I'm ready. I throw my hands skyward in delight as the air horn announces 100 miles but I'm not done yet. The time is 1138 and the short loop is in operation. Keep going round the hayfield where I'm handed a tent peg with my number. The noise and support is incredible as all 24's circle the hayfield. The horn sounds out at midday and announces the end, I put my peg in the ground and make my way to the start along with the rest of the 24's. Iv'e just ran my farthest distance in 24 hours, what a result.
Team BAM, you've done it again. Another unique race I've had the privilege of taking part. Thanks to you and your team of dedicated marshals and helpers for organising this race, I'll be back for more next year, hopefully the legs will have recovered by then.
I'd also like to thank my impromptu support team who got me through the latter stages - Noanie, Heather and Peter, I owe you one.
Week ending Aug 31st. Tues 3, Wed 3, Sat 6. Weekly total 12 miles.
Tues 3, Wed 3, Sat/Sun 101. Weekly total 107 miles.